Friday, March 25, 2016

Newham UNISON AGM 2016: Right to Buy and Pay to Stay

Last Friday I was a guest speaker at the UNISON Newham Local Government branch AGM in East Ham Town Hall. I spoke about the Housing Bill which is currently going through the House of Lords. I was there as a Housing Worker and UNISON Regional Council Officer.

Gloria Hanson (2nd left) and Kim Silver (3rd left) had been re-elected unopposed as Branch Secretary and Chair.

There was a really good presentation first by Thompson Solicitors (left) on "How to win a personal injury claim and how the union can help". After I spoke, UNISON Regional manager Vicky Easton gave an update on the Trade Union Bill.

Before my speech I asked how many people present had heard about "Pay to Stay" and only about half put their hands up. I then asked how many were Council or Housing Association's tenants and again about half put their hands up.

This is really frightening. Leaving aside for the moment that the Government is stealing property belonging to hard pressed Councils to pay for its right to buy discount election bribe for Housing Association tenants (and London will be used to pay for discount in Councils all over the Country that has sold or transferred its housing stock)

What tenants do not understand is under "Pay to Stay" if they have an household income of £40k per year in London (and £30k elsewhere) their rent may double or even treble! Since they will have to pay market rents for their homes. In London this will mean that two NHS nurses earning £20k per year would have to pay up to an incredible £12k extra per year for their home.

In the Q&A there was an interesting discussion about what politics actually means and why there is apathy amongst some union members even if government policies have a huge impact on their lives.

I said what many people don't realise is that politics is all about choices. The current government has made a political choice to double or even triple the rents for millions of workers. They made this choice because they ideologically believe in the "market" and everyone should pay the market rate. If you don't think that this is right then you should either support another political party who opposes it or just pay up and don't whinge about it. Your choice!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Lender Option, Borrower Option (LOBO) loan lending to UK local authorities and conflicts of interest between brokers and advisors

This letter below was sent to the Chair of the Treasury Select Committee and signed by a number of different people including Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP, former Council Chief Executive, Academics, trade unionists, Campaigners and Councillors (including me). 

The Banks and financial advisers have ripped off local authorities up and down the country. It is a national scandal and due to legal time limits - urgent action is needed.

"The Rt Hon Andrew Tyrie MP
Treasury Select Committee
House of Commons
HM Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road, London, SW1A 2HQ

Dear Mr Tyrie

Re: Lender Option, Borrower Option (LOBO) loan lending to UK local authorities and conflicts of interest between brokers and advisors
We are writing in response to coverage of Lender Option, Borrower option (LOBO) loans sold to local authorities and housing associations - exposed by Channel 4 Dispatches and recently covered by the Evening Standard, The Independent and Financial Times 9-12 March, where banks are reported to have made up-front trading profits of £1.5 billion.

We believe it is important to understand how 250 local authorities came to take out at least £15 billion in LOBO loans, containing embedded derivatives. Since the 1989 Hammersmith and Fulham swaps case, the use of derivatives by UK local government has been potentially unlawful.

LOBO loans are described by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) [April 2015] Bulletin as “inherently risky” products.

We note that this is the third time in eight years there have been calls for a Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) inquiry into Brokers and Treasury Management Advisors to local government, the last occasions being during the 2008/09 Icelandic banking collapse when councils lost £1bn on deposit, and in July 2015 following the Channel 4 Dispatches expose of LOBO loans in “How Councils Blow Your Millions.”

On each occasion, calls for the FSA/ FCA to investigate the conduct of regulated Treasury Advisory firms it supervises, including Capita and ICAP were ignored, with DCLG accusing The FSA in 2009 of: “deliberate obfuscation [119].”

As councillors, MPs, citizens and civil society organisations, we wish to lend our voice to calls from MPs John Mann and Clive Betts for an inquiry into LOBO loans, and the conflicts of interest between Banks, Brokers, and Advisors who promoted them, by the Treasury Select Committee (TSC) and The FCA, and demand a financial system that operates in the interests of society.

At the heart of this matter is the assertion by regulators, acting under FSMA 2000 that local authorities are “sophisticated” investors, able to transact safely with global investment banks and brokers selling derivatives products, including LOBOs.

A string of municipal swaps and derivatives mis-selling legal cases across Italy, France, Germany, Portugal and Belgium are testament to the fact that local authorities were not in a position to safely use complex products like derivatives, and could not be accurately described as “sophisticated” investors with full understanding of derivatives risks.

Banks pitched highly complex, opaque and risky products such as ‘inverse floaters’ and ‘range LOBOs’ which were inappropriate for the needs of local authorities. In the case of Newham council, this has had a significant adverse financial impact on its position.

The Communities and Local Government Committee inquiry into local government bank loans heard testimony from Abhishek Sachdev (CEO Vedanta Hedging) and Rob Carver (a former LOBO loan trader with Barclays) that even FTSE 200 Treasurers would be unable to accurately price LOBO loans.

Unlike professional investors such as Hedge Funds, local authorities did not understand the inherent risks with LOBO loans, being reliant upon external Treasury Management Advisers - who received undeclared income streams in the form of commissions from brokers when councils borrowed from banks.

Brokers held themselves out as offering best execution services for local authorities and prior to 2009, failed to disclose relationships with treasury advisers and banks.

It should be remembered that local authority finance is entirely unregulated, and that ultimately, it is local taxpayers picking up the tab when councils are mis-sold risky financial products.

With the closure of the Local Government Audit Commission in 2015, severe cuts to Town Hall budgets since 2010, and plans outlined in the Devolution for Cities agenda granting additional financial powers to local authorities, it has never been more important to stamp out market abuse along the financial advisory chain to town halls.

CIPFA and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) both assert that it should be The FCA, not councils, which investigate and regulate the conduct of financial consultants and advisors to councils.

We call upon the Treasury Select Committee to conduct an inquiry, and to ensure The FCA is given appropriate powers/ forced to investigate and regulate the conduct of Treasury Management Advisors and financial consultants to local government.


1.    Cllr Ruthi Brandt - Deputy Leader (Green Group), Oxford City Council
2.    Cllr Matthew Brown - Preston City Council (Labour)
3.    Cllr Stephen Clarke - Bristol City Council (Green)
4.    Cllr Sam Coates - Oxford County Council (Green)
5.    Cllr Rokhsana Fiaz - London Borough of Newham (Labour)
6.    Cllr John Gray - London Borough of Newham (Labour)
7.    Cllr Nick Hands - Oxfordshire County Council (Labour)
8.    Cllr Richard Kemp - Leader Liverpool Council (Lib Dem Group)
9.    Cllr Daniel Lee - London Borough of Tower Hamlets (Greens)
10. Murad Qureshi - London Assembly Member (Labour)
11. Cllr Martyn Rawlinson - Preston City Council (Labour)
12. Cllr Abhishek Sachdev - Hertsmere Council (Conservative)
13. Cllr Sam Tarry - London Borough of Barking & Dagenham (Labour)
14. Cllr John Whitworth - London Borough of Newham (Labour)
15. Jeremy Smith - former Chief Executive Officer London Borough of Camden
16. John McDonnell MP - Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer (Labour)
17. Caroline Lucas MP - Brighton and Hove (Green Party)
18. Ann Pettifor - Economist and Director, Advocacy International
19. John Christensen - Director Tax Justice Network
20. Prem Sikka - Professor of Accounting - Essex Business School
21. Professor Johnna Montgomerie - Goldsmiths University PERC
22. Richard Murphy - Professor of International Political Economy, City University, London
23. Natalie Bennett - Leader of Green Party of England and Wales
24. Nick Dunbar - Financial Analyst and Journalist
25. Antony Barnett - Journalist and Presenter Channel 4 Dispatches
26. Sarah-Jayne Clifton - Director, Jubilee Debt Campaign
27. Professor Steve Keen - Kingston University
28. Marc Stears - CEO, New Economics Foundation
29. Fran Boait - Director, Positive Money
30. Frances Coppola - Financial Journalist, Forbes Magazine
31. Fionn Travers-Smith - Campaign Manager, Move Your Money
32. Ludovica Rogers - Debt Resistance UK
33. SME Alliance
34. Rob Carver - Former Barclays LOBO loan trader
35. Dr Gary Kendall - Director CDO2
36. Rachel Collinson - LB Newham resident and GLA London candidate
37. Hannah Caller - Focus E15
38. Angus McNelly - London Borough of Tower Hamlets resident
39. Sian Berry - Candidate, Mayor of London
40. Carl Packman - Author and researcher on payday loans
41. Damon Gibbons - Centre for Responsible Credit
42. Professor Mark Burton - Steady State Manchester/ Manchester Metropolitan University
43. Emma Aviles - Citizens Debt Audit Platform (PACD) Spain
44. Chris Hewett - The Finance Lab
45. Ben Wray - Common Space
46. Peter Crowley - Windsor Acturial
47. Nicholas Wilson - Financial Whistleblower
48. Romayne Phoenix, London Borough of Lewisham resident
49. Ross Ashcroft - Renegade Inc
50. Cat Hobbs - Director, We Own It
51. Andrew Caldwell - Unite, City of Edinburgh Branch
52. Brian Robertson - Unite, City of Edinburgh Branch
53. Peter Lawson - Unite, City of Edinburgh Branch
54. Peter McColl - Former Rector - University of Edinburgh
55. Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES)
56. Bryan Rylands - Kent County Council resident
57. Adrian Beard MBE - resident Argyll and Bute Council
58. Simon Jose - Leeds City Council resident
59. Kerry-Anne Mendoza - Editor in Chief - The Canary
60. Mark McGowan - London Borough of Bromley resident
61. Joel Benjamin - Community Reinvest

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


UNISON is carrying out a consultation of its members on the EU referendum. Next week there is a meeting at our HQ in London.

Last week UNISON National Labour Link Committee voted overwhelmingly for staying "IN" (warts and all).

Check out the website "Another Europe is Possible"

In my personal capacity this message below has gone out to UNISON colleagues.

"As you will now be aware UNISON is currently in the process of consulting branches and members on the position the union should take on the EU referendum. The consultation runs from now until the 5th April.  We strongly believe that although the European Union is far from perfect,  working people are better off in the EU. As a Trade Unionist you will know that all too often UK employment law is not on the side of our member. However many of the workers rights we do have come from European law, for example-

·         TUPE - (Transfers of undertakings) rights when an organisation (eg a public service) is being outsourced or transferred.

·         Collective redundancies and right to consultation

·         Minimum paid annual leave

·         Fair treatment rights for agency and temporary workers.

·         Pregnancy and maternity leave rights

·         Parental leave.

·         Working time which includes a maximum of a 48 hour week unless you agree otherwise, and minimum rest breaks each day

·         Equal treatment, equal pay and part time workers’ rights

·         Health and safety regulations.

I hope you will join with us in campaigning for a YES vote in the coming referendum, and calling for a pro-worker social Europe.

For your information we have prepared a standard motion (below) for your branch to pass!
Contained here are the links UNISONS consultation.

Please let us know if you are interested in being involved in the Campaign.

Kind Regards

John Gray


This (emergency?) branch Executive notes:-

On Thursday 23 June 2016 there will be referendum in the UK on whether to remain or leave the European Union.

UNISON is currently holding a consultation on whether or not to take a policy decision and campaign on the referendum. This consultation will finish on 5 April.

The UK has been a member of the European Union in its various forms since 1973. In 1975 there was a previous UK referendum on membership and voters decided 2:1 to remain.

We are proud to call ourselves internationalists, and recognise that globalisation requires cross border- co-operation in order to regulate markets in favour of workers. 

That a major driver for the formation of the EU was to prevent war between France, Germany and the UK.

While there is serious structural and political issues about the EU it has resulted in many employment policies and rights which are favourable to UNISON members and their families such as:-

·         TUPE - (Transfers of undertakings) rights when an organisation (eg a public service) is being outsourced or transferred.

·         Collective redundancies and right to consultation

·         Minimum paid annual leave 28 days a year

·         Fair treatment rights for agency and temporary workers.

·         Pregnancy and maternity leave rights

·         Parental leave.

·         Working time which includes a maximum of a 48 hour week unless you agree otherwise, and minimum rest breaks each day

·         Equal treatment, equal pay and part time workers’ rights

·         Health and safety regulations.

These rights would be under threat if the UK was to leave the EU. The current Tory Government is opposed to these rights and we were to leave is likely to dismantle them. 

If the UK left it is also likely that any bilateral international free trade agreements negotiated by this Conservative government will be far more anti-public services and anti-workers’ rights than any negotiated by the EU. 

The EU has been an important “brake” on past and present Tory Governments in their attacks on public services and workers’ rights. 

That if we leave the EU it may lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom since it is likely that Scotland and Wales will want to remain inside the EU. 

That the Labour Party and the Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn is in favour of remaining in the EU and then reforming it in the interests of all citizens and workers.

This Branch resolves:-

The issue of whether or not to remain in the EU is very important to UNISON. 

Economic prosperity, preserving existing and furthering employment rights, equalities, retaining pubic services and influencing bilateral treaties are key issues. 

UNISON should provide branches with materials and information. 

It is in the interests of the UNISON members and the UK to remain inside the EU and work within for change and reform.